Three years ago, I launched Feed My Wanderlust, a showcase for my fine art photography and a place for me to publish stories about my travel experiences. Last year, I took my passion for travel to the next level by leading my first group trip (ladies only, sorry guys!) to Copenhagen. This year, eight of us spent an amazing week exploring Marrakesh. What I have come to discover over the years is that traveling with girlfriends brings unqiue joy! These trips are a special opportunity to unplug from daily life, reconnect with friends (make new ones), and experience a new place. Needless to say, our week in Morocco was a lot of fun. What follows is a recap of the best that Marrakech has to offer!
El Fenn: El Fenn is the place to stay! A Marrakech hotel comprised of a series of restored riads (traditional moroccan homes) in the center of the medina, El Fenn is the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. With only 28 rooms, several tree-filled courtyards, terraces, and gardens, a stay at El Fenn feels like retreating to the home of a chic moroccan friend. The hotel has been meticulously designed by its owners Vanessa Branson and Howell James, who wanted to create a home away from home that combined comfortable rooms, great food, and exceptional service. Each of the guest rooms is filled with colorful art, furniture, and decor, that is impeccably sourced by the owners and El Fenn's general manager / interior design guru, Willem Smit. If you can tear yourself away from the excellent breakfast on the terrace or are ready to break from your swim in the pool, El Fenn is perfectly appointed to take in the world-famous Djemaa el Fna square, or an exploration of the maze of souks that make up the medina. If the complex of alleys and unmarked streets feels intimidating, be sure to arrange for one of El Fenn's trusted guides to show you around. Not only will they see to it that you don't get lost, but Mustapha and his team are very knowledgable about where to shop, eat, and see the best that Marrakech has to offer. More on El Fenn below! $$$$
Beldi Country Club: If staying in the medina sounds noisy and intimidating, consider booking a room at Beldi Country Club, a beautiful property about 20 minutes outside the city center. We spent an afternoon enjoying the Beldi Spa and pool, but could easily have spent a few nights here. With hundreds of acres of gardens, pools, green houses, and olive groves, Beldi will appeal to anyone who enjoys interior design, landscape architecture, or pure old-fashioned relaxation. At a minimum, book a day pass and experience a traditional hamman at the Beldi Spa, and lunch under the olive trees by the pool (the Club Sandwich is not to be missed). After a swim, take a stroll through the Shops at Beldi, where Marrakech's top retailers have set up small boutiques, curating the best luxury shopping experience without the mandatory haggling that goes on in the souks. Beldi is the ultimate traveler's oasis. My mind couldn't stop wondering why someone hasn't developed a property like it in the U.S. - Sonoma or Napa Valley perhaps?? $$$
There is no shortage of fabulous food in Marrakech, and you don't have to spend a lot to eat really, really well.
Djemaa el Fna: A trip to Marrakech is not complete without a night-time visit to this world famous square where chefs cook up local specialities from open-aired carts. Escargot, lamb kabobs, and fresh squeezed juices are just a few of the delicacies that are prepared in the square's restaurant kiosks. If you research on-line, every local and regular has their favorite stall where they like to eat, but my standard piece of advice is to sit down at the busiest spot you can find - the fact that it is busy is a good sign that the food is good! $
Le Jardin: While in Marrakech, a lunch at Le Jardin is a must. Whether you are seated down below in the courtyard or up top on one of the restaurant terraces, rest assured your meal will be excellent. On this recent trip I enjoyed the most incredible Pigeon Pastilla, a filo pastry pie filled with minced pigeon, parsley, pomegranates, almonds, cinnamon and other spices. If was the most delicious thing I have eaten in a long time! Note: Liquor licenses come and go in Marrakech. At the time we dined at Le Jardin, the restaurant was not serving alcohol. $$
NOMAD: Nomad is one of Marrakech's most popular restaurants amongst both travelers and locals. With several floors, the restaurant can accommodate large groups, and has a terrace that offers some of the best views of the medina. Offering a modern take on moroccan cuisine, Nomad's menu consists of excellent vegetarian fare accented with locally sourced meats and fish. The lamb shank over cauliflower couscous served with prunes and traditional moroccan spices was favorite. Be sure to check out the wares in Chabi Chic, a small boutique on the main floor of the restaurant that sells, among other things, its own line of moroccan ceramics, linens, and jewelry. Note: At the time we dined at Nomad, the restaurant was not serving alcohol but has an extensive juice menu that is worth exploring. $$
El Fenn: Whether you are staying at the hotel or not, a meal at El Fenn is not to be missed. If you stop in for lunch on the rooftop terrace, expect a tasting of fresh salads, grilled vegetables, and breads. In the evening, enjoy a craft cocktail by the courtyard pool before heading into the boutique (that's right) for dinner, where tables are set up among the shelves and tables that showcase an expertly curated selection of moroccan goods. Shop while you eat - why not? Be sure to try the locally produced wine! $$$
L'Hôtel: For an intimate evening out, have a guide lead you through the back alleys of the medina to L'Hôtel, a beautiful, newly restored riad with just five suites and an excellent restaurant. On cool nights, dinner is served inside by the fire, while on warm evenings, the large glass doors are opened to the courtyard and guests are invited to dine in the garden amidst the fountains and pool. The restaurant at L'Hôtel serves traditional moroccan cuisine, with a focus on slow cooked meats (tagine), perfectly prepared couscous spiked with herbs, aromatics, and spices, and fresh, local produce. $$$$
Grand Café de la Poste: If you venture out of the medina (which you should) and find yourself exploring the modern neighborhood of Gueliz, be sure to book lunch at old-school establishment, Grand Café de la Poste. Sit under the ceiling fans, sip rosé to your hearts content, and take a break from moroccan cuisine by indulging in food inspired by a traditional Parisian brasserie. You can't go wrong with the burger and fries! Open for breakfast and lunch. $$
La Famille: When you are too hot to make a decision, retreat to the shaded courtyard of La Famille, a lovely garden restaurant in the medina featuring a vegetarian menu showcasing fresh moroccan produce. All the salads at La Famille are highly recommended. Be sure to look around their lovely shop which sells a nice selection of moroccan goods. $
ON THE SIDE
Musée Yves Saint Laurent: If you are interested in fashion and design, or are intrigued by YSL's relationship with Marrakech, a visit to this new, small museum featuring a selection of his designs should be on your itinerary. TIP: Go in the morning when it first opens and be sure to have your hotel or guide purchase your tickets in advance so to avoid long lines.
La Maison de la Photography: The Museum of Photography is a private foundation that houses a permanent collection of vintage moroccan photographs, as well as a rotating exhibition of current work. The Museum's archive exhibits the diversity of the people and landscape of Morocco as seen through the lens of travelers and photographers from 1870 to 1960.
Ibn Yusuf Mosque: The Ben Youssef Mosque is arguably the oldest and most important mosque in Marrakesh. The Mosque and its complex are currently closed for restoration and will not reopen until 2020.
Le Jardin Secret: This beautiful private garden was recently opened to the public after extensive renovations. Go in the morning and enjoy coffee from the cafe while sitting on a bench amongst the flowering agapanthus, rosemary hedges, lavender, and citrus trees. In my opinion, Le Jardin Secret is preferable to Jardin Majorelle if you don't have time to do both.
La Bahia Palace: The palace of Bahia is a nineteenth century palace of eight hectares located in the medina of Marrakech. It is one of the masterpieces of Moroccan architecture, and one of the major monuments of the country’s cultural heritage. The palace is made up of about 150 richly decorated pieces of art, marble, carvings and paintings. Organized around courtyards and gardens planted with orange, banana, cypress, hibiscus and jasmine trees, Bahia Palace is a beautiful example of Moroccan architecture and landscape design.
Jardin Majorelle: The private gardens of french painter Jacque Majorelle are adjacent to the Musee Yves Saint Laurent and are worth a visit. In 1980, the property was acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé, who brought the gardens back to life. Upon the death of YSL, Pierre Bergé donated the gardens to the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, and they have since been accessible to the public. TIP: This garden is on the tourist trail; it is very busy.
If you are interested in shopping for carpets, ceramics, metal objects, etc. in the souks, it is worthwile to hire a guide to direct you to the best purveyors. TIPS: Always be aware of your bags. When shopping in the souks, be aware that the act of bargaining is part of the buying experience. Don't examine or inquire about purchasing something unless you are truly interested in buying it and ready to plunge into a negotiation. Cash is king when negotiating in the souks. Rugs can be shipped by DHL and usually arrive in the U.S. within 2 weeks.
In addition to shopping in the souks, Marrakech is home to some incredible boutiques selling goods designed and made in Morocco. Below are a list of favorite boutiques that are all located outside the souks.
Norya Ayron: This small boutique inside Le Jardin showcases beautiful silk caftans and leather goods designed by Norya Ayron.
33 Rue Majorelle: Across from Jardin Majorelle, this two-story concept store features clothing and accessories from a wide selection of moroccan and french designers. This is a great place to pick up small, unique gifts.
Popham Design: Cement tiles are part of the cultural and artistic heritage of Morocco, and those made by American expats Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes are as beautiful and exquisite as they come. Manufactured in an unbelievable array of colors and patterns, schedule a visit to the studio to see their complete line.
Lalla: Don't leave Marrakech without a trip to Lalla, a small store in Gueliz selling handbags and other case goods. Lalla's in-house designed handbags are manufactured using best quality moroccan leather died in rich rainbow colored hues. Also known for their line of terry cloth and carpet bags, Lalla handbags are also sold at El Fenn and other boutiques in Morocco and France. Check-out their instagram for the latest (hopefully they have restocked since we were there...we didn't leave much behind!).
Chabi Chic: This lovely, bright shop in the medina sells a lovely selection of handmade ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and leather goods.
if you are interested in buying knock-off luxury goods, head to Djemaa el Fna and be sure to bargain!
Scarabeo Camp: So, you have a week in Morocco and you want to see the desert? Well, unless you spring for a helicopter, it will take you three days to spend one night in the Sahara, so why not opt for something a little closer and just as cool! Scarabeo Camp, located just 45 minutes from Marrakech in the stone desert of Agafay has everything you need to feel the solitude and silence of the desert. The luxury tents, complete with wood burning stoves, berber carpets, showers, and toilets, offer the ultimate glamping experience. With an incredible view of the Atlas Mountains, little to no light pollution, Scarabeo Camp cannot be beat if you are looking for a tented camp experience without the hassle of traveling a long distance.
Meals are all inclusive. Alcohol, excursions, and transportation are extra.
Camels are aplenty in this part of the world. If you want to ride one around the camp, go for it. But your time and money are better spent with a guided trek through the desert.
How to Arrive: Menara International Airport has regular flights to western Europe with connections to the United States. However, Casablanca (1 hour flight from Marrakech) is the home of Morocco's largest airport and has direct flights to and from the U.S.
Transportation: When you arrive in Marrakech, have your hotel arrange transportation from the airport. On the ground in Marrakech, when using taxis, be sure to negotiate the cost of the ride before getting in the taxi.
Navigation: Navigating the medina is not for the faint of heart. I recommend hiring a guide on your first day (at a minimum). Not only is this a great way to learn about the city, but the best way to get the lay of the land before venturing out on your own.
Guides: Mustapha Chouquir and his associates work with El Fenn, but can also be contacted directly to guide you through Marrakech and beyond. Not only are they very knowledgable about city, they are also well equipped to assist with shopping, restaurants, and navigating the souks.
When to Go: Morocco is wonderful to visit all year round, but spring is when it is at its best. Gardens are in bloom, it's not too hot, and it rarely rains.
Whats to Come:
Rome with Kids ★ 9.18
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